Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Brother Can You Spare a Dime?

The BBC isn’t the only journal chronicling America’s collapse. Not that Britain is doing all that great, but the separation gives some perspective.

The Guardian, in a long piece, describes a scam where desperate jobless men were lured to a farm for the promise of work by an ad on Craigslist, only to be brutally murdered for no apparent reason. The details of the job offer? $300 a month and living in a trailer. They were swamped with applicants. They use the case to highlight the plummeting living standards of average Americans and the dire job situation:

The victims were in their late 40s or older, an age when it is often harder to land work. Some were drifters, others had moved from one low-paying job to another. But there were men like Sanson, too, who just a few years ago regarded themselves as solidly middle-class and prosperous, and who back then could not have imagined pursuing a $300-a-week job and living in a trailer. Today they find themselves among the ranks of the near-destitute as the number of people living in poverty grows nearly twice as fast in many of the US's once-affluent suburbs as in its inner cities. For the first time since the postwar industrial boom, the American dream is being rolled back and the middle class is shrinking.

Sanson spent three decades building up his own construction company, earning $60,000 a year or more. The firm went into decline with the mortgage crisis, which hit Ohio earlier than much of the US, and out of business three years ago. Since then Sanson says he has applied for 50 or more jobs. Now he lives off a $370-a-month military pension and relies on $160 a month in food stamps to eat. He has no medical insurance. "I've had to sell a lot of things. The antiques I had I've had to get rid of. Family heirlooms. Mostly furniture. Corner cabinets, dressers, bookcases," he said. "I've run out of things to sell."

He is not alone. "I had a lot of friends who worked on the steel mills for a long time and they're out of jobs," he said.

Sanson lives in Stow, a town about 45 miles south of Ohio's largest city, Cleveland. Stow is lined with neat two-storey homes and bungalows constructed during the years when the flourishing car industry was driving the local economy. Many of the early residents were the first generation to own cars and televisions. Now, across north-eastern Ohio, the American dream is in retreat. Thirteen Cleveland suburbs that in the 90s were booming middle-class neighbourhoods now have a higher rate of poverty than the city itself as average household incomes have plummeted to their lowest in 25 years. More than half of all children in Cleveland live below the poverty line. It's a situation reflected across large parts of America. The latest census data shows that nearly one in two of the US's 300 million citizens are now officially classified as having a low income or living in poverty. One in five families earns less than $15,000 (£9,600) a year.

Northern Ohio is among the worst hit, particularly Cleveland and its satellite towns where 60% of poor people now live in the suburbs. The number of people on food stamps in the city's suburbs has nearly quadrupled to about 60,000. Feeding centres have appeared in suburbs that could never have imagined such a thing, such as Maple Heights where a "food pantry" distributing free provisions to the needy opened three years ago. "Some people are embarrassed," said the pantry manager, Evelyn Knuckles. "And some people are not embarrassed. They only want brand-named food. They're in need but they still want the brands they used to eat. It's very aggravating at times."

Similar pantries in suburbs around northern Ohio get many of their supplies from a central distributor, the Cleveland Food Bank."Take Lake County," said Anne Goodman, who runs the food bank. "Very nice suburb. Nobody in Lake County ever thought there would be a problem but we have tripled our distribution there in the last two or three years. Things are not like they always were. People who were working at a steel company making $40 an hour are now making $10 flipping burgers at McDonald's or whatever."

That has forced many people to make difficult choices as they juggle the costs of food, housing, utilities and healthcare. Some cut back on essential medications or stop visiting the doctor even when sick because without a job, or with a low-paying one, they do not have health insurance. Others raid their retirement savings funds, often a reflection of real desperation because they not only face a large tax penalty but are left without a pot of money for old age. The situation is only going to get worse in January when 70,000 people in Ohio will have drawn the maximum three years of unemployment benefit and will not be eligible for more assistance other than food stamps.

Claudia Coulton, co-director of the urban poverty centre at Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University, said that for the first time since the 1930s, large numbers of Americans were slipping out of the middle class and into poverty with every sign they would not easily escape again. Even if they can find work, it is generally poorly paid. "This recession has pushed people who were barely into the middle class down below the poverty line. You're getting people who had decent jobs for long periods losing those jobs," she said. "In the United States we used to think we had two kinds of poverty; inner-city poverty and rural poverty. But now we find more of the poor are living in the suburbs. That's a recent phenomenon."

Goodman said that while some older people were too proud to ask for help, many families were now so desperate that pride was cast aside. "It's got to be a horrible experience. There's nobody that likes going and saying: 'I can't feed my family.' It has to be one of the lowest points of somebody's life," she said.

Shian Davenport, of Hudson, Ohio, advertises her desire for work. Photograph: Chris McGreal/guardian.co.uk Shian Davenport is standing at the entrance to a shopping mall car park in Hudson, Ohio – an affluent small town just north of Stow. She has been there for several hours, with a scarf, hat and fleece but no coat in close to freezing temperatures, holding a sign: "Mother of 3. Will work, any assistance appreciated! Happy Holidays. God Bless."

"I was an assistant manager at a Pizza Hut for five years. When I lost my job I never worried about finding another job. I imagined jobs were easy to come by. I was wrong," she said. "It's not like I don't know how to work. I've tried factories, grocery stores, anything." Davenport, 27, stands on street corners five or six days a week to keep a roof over the head of her three sons aged between four and nine. It is her only income apart from food stamps. "On a good day I earn $50. The worst day was $7," she said. "My husband is a roofer. He has no work. He hates it that I come out here. But I have three kids and I have to look after them. Food stamps don't pay bills." As Davenport speaks, another woman with a sign pleading for money appears at the next entrance to the car park. A third is just around the corner.

The desperation for jobs is such that when a new casino opening in central Cleveland in March advertised 650 positions it received 12,500 applications. 
'Craigslist Killer' Highlights the plight of America's jobless

And in a related story, a study that looked at the actual costs of living in America rather than arbitrary numbers has determined that 48 percent of Americans can be classified as low income. If this doesn’t prove that there is no more “Middle Class” than nothing will:

WASHINGTON -- Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans – nearly 1 in 2 – have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income. The latest census data depict a middle class that's shrinking as unemployment stays high and the government's safety net frays. The new numbers follow years of stagnating wages for the middle class that have hurt millions of workers and families.

"Safety net programs such as food stamps and tax credits kept poverty from rising even higher in 2010, but for many low-income families with work-related and medical expenses, they are considered too `rich' to qualify," said Sheldon Danziger, a University of Michigan public policy professor who specializes in poverty. "The reality is that prospects for the poor and the near poor are dismal," he said. "If Congress and the states make further cuts, we can expect the number of poor and low-income families to rise for the next several years."

About 97.3 million Americans fall into a low-income category, commonly defined as those earning between 100 and 199 percent of the poverty level, based on a new supplemental measure by the Census Bureau that is designed to provide a fuller picture of poverty. Together with the 49.1 million who fall below the poverty line and are counted as poor, they number 146.4 million, or 48 percent of the U.S. population. That's up by 4 million from 2009, the earliest numbers for the newly developed poverty measure.

The new measure of poverty takes into account medical, commuting and other living costs. Doing that helped push the number of people below 200 percent of the poverty level up from 104 million, or 1 in 3 Americans, that was officially reported in September. Broken down by age, children were most likely to be poor or low-income – about 57 percent – followed by seniors over 65. By race and ethnicity, Hispanics topped the list at 73 percent, followed by blacks, Asians and non-Hispanic whites.

The majority of low-income families – 62 percent – spent more than one-third of their earnings on housing, surpassing a common guideline for what is considered affordable. By some census surveys, child-care costs consume close to another one-fifth. Paychecks for low-income families are shrinking. The inflation-adjusted average earnings for the bottom 20 percent of families have fallen from $16,788 in 1979 to just under $15,000, and earnings for the next 20 percent have remained flat at $37,000. In contrast, higher-income brackets had significant wage growth since 1979, with earnings for the top 5 percent of families climbing 64 percent to more than $313,000.

A survey of 29 cities conducted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors being released Thursday points to a gloomy outlook for those on the lower end of the income scale. Many mayors cited the challenges of meeting increased demands for food assistance, expressing particular concern about possible cuts to federal programs such as food stamps and WIC, which assists low-income pregnant women and mothers. Unemployment led the list of causes of hunger in cities, followed by poverty, low wages and high housing costs.
Census finds nearly half of Americans are poor or low income (Huffington Post)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.